Recipes: Food for Thought

The new food for thought: community-building through food, local ingredients and the comforts of cooking. Here, secret recipes from chefs you’ll want to try at home this holiday season.

When you think of the Neal Brothers, you may think snack foods. You can find the food company’s branded kettle-cooked potato chips, pretzels and popcorn on the shelves, but did you know that they are also the guys that discovered and brought to market Kicking Horse Coffee, Raincoast Crisps and Tazo Tea?

The Neal Brothers (Peter and Chris ) started in 1988 in small-town Ontario – their mother’s Aurora kitchen, to be exact – with a recipe for gourmet croutons. Since, they’ve expanded to snack foods, dressings, mayonnaise and other condiments, using natural and organic ingredients.

The brothers’ latest project is as grassroots as their start. Goodness: Recipes & Stories is a cookbook collection from top chefs and those who cook for the community across our country. Fifty per cent of the profits from the book will be donated to Community Food Centres Canada (CFCC), and it is a strong case for busting the myth that eating healthier is too expensive for people on fixed incomes.

“One of the goals for CFCC is to show people how to grow food, how to make smarter food choices within their economic means and how to prepare good, nutritious, wholesome foods,” says Peter.

There is a narrative, he adds, which runs as a central theme through all of the programming at CFCC: “Good food, not necessarily expensive food, is powerful. It energizes our bodies and helps keep us healthy.”

Beyond the centres, he wanted people to be able to bring the concept home and help the cause – with a few top chefs, such as Dragons’ Den’s Vikram Vij and Top Chef Canada winner Carl Heinrich, as the draw.

But there was one basic criterion: “We were looking for people who were adding genuine goodness to their communities with the common thread being food,” Peter says. The idea came from a National Advisory Council meeting for CCFC, he recalls, where members were challenged with raising awareness and funds.

“A light bulb went on in my brain: I had found the right hook!” – a book about philanthropy and entrepreneurship that would inspire people as well as educate them about CFCC.

At a glance, you’ll notice the words food activist appear on many of the contributors’ biographies. But are they all chefs? “Absolutely not,” Peter says, “we have many personalities in the book who are not chefs.” And while it is used to showcase renowned chefs, the goal is to also celebrate everyday unknown heroes.

“Anyone with a love for food and a respect for what is right, from a social justice or environmental standpoint can be a food activist!” The new food for thought, then: community building through what we eat, the comforts of home cooking and local ingredients.

At this time of year, when family gatherings are on the calendar, this is a currency we can all get behind.

With this in mind, we asked the Neal Brothers to create a menu: a starter, a dish that would suit vegetarians, two mains from which to choose (for those who might eschew red meat, there’s a chicken recipe) and dessert. Enjoy!


To get involved Go to; for the book, www.neal or

Neal Brothers Cookbook - Day 7
Neal Brothers Cookbook – Day 7

Roasted Cauliflower
& Parsnip soup

From Paul Rogalski, chef and co-owner Rouge and Bistro Rouge, Calgary My baba used to cook on the farm with a wood-fired stove and oven. She had the best garden and made everything from scratch. It was her epic meals that made me want to be a chef. To honour my grandmother’s spirit, use freshly harvested ingredients and a wood-fired oven like she did. If those aren’t options, a trip to a farmers market and a regular oven will do, of course. Either way, roasting the vegetables is essential.


4                   medium parsnips, cut in small pieces

1                   head cauliflower, cut in small pieces

1                   yellow onion, roughly chopped

½ cup        unsalted butter

1 tbsp         chopped fresh thyme

2 cups        dry white wine

10 cups     chicken stock

1 cup          whipping (35%) cream

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


In roasting pan, combine parsnips, cauliflower, onion and butter. Roast in 400 F oven, stirring every few minutes, until vegetables are golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and stir in thyme and wine. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes.

Transfer roasted vegetables
to blender with 2½ cups of the stock. Blend on high speed until smooth (hold lid down tightly with kitchen towel).

Transfer to a large pot over medium heat. Add remaining
stock. Bring to a boil, reduce
heat and simmer, stirring occa-​sionally, for 5 minutes. Stir in cream and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 8 to 10

Caramelized Onion Perogies with Braised Beef Shank & Celery Root Purée

Neal Brothers Cookbook - Day 6
Neal Brothers Cookbook – Day 6

From Carl Heinrich, chef, Richmond Station, Toronto

This dish is a great example of how to use all of a local ingredient.
At Richmond Station, we only buy whole animals, directly from the farmer and only from southern
Ontario. We know all our producers well and this helps us find the best-quality ingredients out there.


Braised Beef

2 tbsp         oil

1 lb              beef shank

4 cups        beef stock

1 cup          dry red wine

1                   sprig fresh rosemary

1                   sprig fresh thyme

1                   small bay leaf


In large skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil. Add beef shank and sear on all sides until well caramelized, about 5 minutes per side. Add stock and wine and bring to a simmer. Add rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf; cover and braise in 250 F oven until meat is fall-off-the-bone tender, about 3 hours.

Transfer braised shanks to plate and cover to keep warm. Place pan with liquid over high heat and skim to remove all fat on top. Reduce until thick, about 30 minutes. Cut braised meat into small pieces and add to reduced liquid. Cover and set aside, keeping warm.


Perogy Filling

3                   russet potatoes, unpeeled

2 tbsp         vegetable oil

2                   onions, thinly sliced

3                   green onions, thinly sliced

¼ cup        sour cream

8 oz             aged cheddar cheese, shredded

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Stab potatoes with fork and bake directly on middle rack in 400 F oven until very soft, about 1 hour. Set aside to cool slightly.

Slice cooled potatoes in half and scoop out flesh (discard skins). Pass potatoes through
a ricer or mash with a masher.

Meanwhile, in skillet over medium heat, heat oil. Add onions and cook until caramelized, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook until very soft, about 20 minutes.

To mashed potatoes, add caramelized onions, green onions, sour cream and shredded cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.


Perogy Dough & Assembly

½ cup        sour cream

6 tbsp         melted butter

1                   large egg

1                   large egg yolk

2 cups        all-purpose flour, plus                    more for dusting


In bowl, stir together sour cream, melted butter, egg and egg yolk. Fold flour into wet ingredients. Turn out onto slightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and slightly elastic.

On lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to ⅛-inch thickness. Using a glass, cut out as many rounds as you can. Place about 2 tbsp of filling on half of each round. Fold dough over filling to make half-moon shape and pinch edges to seal. (You may need to brush with a small amount of water to help dough stick together.)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare an ice bath. Add perogies to boiling water and boil for 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer perogies to ice bath. Once cool, transfer perogies to paper towels to drain.


Celery Root Purée

1                    small celery root, cut in small pieces (reserve yellow leaves)

2 tbsp         butter

¼ cup        sour cream


Place celery root in saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until very tender, about 30 minutes. Drain. Transfer to blender; add butter and blend on high speed until smooth. Scrape purée into bowl and fold in sour cream. Set aside.



3 tbsp         butter, divided

1                   small head celery, peeled and diced


In skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tbsp of the butter. Working in batches so as not to crowd the pan, fry boiled perogies until crisp on one side, about 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, in saucepan of boiling water, blanch celery until just crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Drain in colander and transfer to bowl. Add 1 tbsp of the butter and toss until well coated.

To serve, spread celery root purée evenly over serving platter. Top with fried perogies and then braised beef. Scatter blanched celery overtop and garnish with reserved celery root leaves. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Mushroom & Toasted Bran Risotto

Neal Brothers Cookbook - Day 1
Neal Brothers Cookbook – Day 1

From Andrea Carlson, chef and co-owner, Burdock & Co., Vancouver This is a simple, clean risotto that lets the nuttiness of the toasted bran and the sweetness of the rice shine through. We like to use rice produced by Masa Shiroki – it’s the first rice grown in B.C.!


7 tbsp          butter, divided

2                   shallots, finely diced

1 ½ cups   risotto rice (see Tip 1)

¼ cup        dry white wine

3-4 cups   hot water, divided

Sea salt

4 tbsp         toasted rice bran (see Tip 2)

½ cup        roughly chopped black trumpet mushrooms (see Tip 3)

3 oz             shaved aged farmhouse cheese (we prefer fermière)

Sour Bran Broth (optional, recipe follows)


In skillet over medium heat, melt 4 tbsp of the butter. Add shallots and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add rice and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes, until well coated. Add wine and cook, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until wine has almost evaporated, about 2 minutes.

Add 1 cup of the hot water, stirring constantly until absorbed by rice, about 5 minutes. Add remaining hot water 1 cup at a time, continuing to stir constantly until rice is creamy yet slightly firm (al dente). Sprinkle with salt to taste. Stir in 2 tbsp of the butter and toasted rice bran. Cover and set aside, keeping warm.

In clean skillet, melt remaining 1 tbsp butter. Add mushrooms and cook until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Divide risotto among serving bowls. Top with sautéed mushrooms, cheese and sour bran broth (if using). Serve.

Serves 2


Sour Bran Broth

If you are feeling adventurous and have the time, make this tasty broth to finish the risotto.


⅓ cup        water, at room

2 tbsp         rice bran

Sea salt and pepper


In glass jar, combine water, rice bran and salt; stir well. Cover mouth of jar with cheesecloth and set aside in a dark, cool place for 2 days to ferment.

Carefully strain liquid through the cheesecloth into small saucepan (discard solids). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Just before serving, warm over medium heat. Spoon a couple of tablespoons around the edge of each bowl of rice.


Tip 1 The best types of rice for risotto are Italian short-grain varieties, which provide the right amount of starch to achieve a creamy result. If you can’t find Agassiz-grown rice, Arborio and carnaroli are both good choices.

Tip 2 To toast rice bran, place it in a dry pan over medium heat and heat, stirring often, for about 3 minutes, until slightly browned.

Tip 3 If you can’t find black trumpet mushrooms (also known as black chanterelles), you can substitute an equal quantity of chanterelle or hedgehog mushrooms.

Poached Pears in Red Wine

Neal Brothers Cookbook - Day 10
Neal Brothers Cookbook – Day 10

From Kristina McMillan, director, NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre, Winnipeg Poached pears in red wine is pure heaven. This is a traditional Italian recipe made with simple ingredients. Chef Anna Paganelli of De Luca’s in Winnipeg shared the preparation with me. I had the pleasure of working alongside Anna for a few years, and she taught me that if you use quality ingredients in your recipes, the flavours will absolutely sing.


6                   ripe Bosc pears,
unpeeled, cored and halved
1                   lemon, sliced

1                   cinnamon stick

2 cups       dry red wine

½ cup       granulated sugar
Vanilla ice cream or gelato


Place pears in large saucepan, skin side up, and cover with water. Add lemon and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until pears are cooked but still firm.

Drain pears, reserving cinnamon stick. Return pears to pan, skin side up, along with reserved cinnamon stick. Pour in wine and sugar. Simmer over medium heat, uncovered, until liquid has reduced slightly and thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Divide pears among serving plates. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the centre of each pear. Drizzle with wine syrup.

Serves 6 to 12